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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Barbaric Russian Misogyny Continues Unabated

USA Today reports:

LIN, Russia — Olga Torgunakova lived for two months in the Lyubava Center, a women's shelter with four beds in this city 50 miles northwest of Moscow.

Now, Torgunakova, 23, and her 4-year-old son have moved in with her mother, invalid father and two younger sisters. Torgunakova, who says her husband frequently humiliated and threatened her during their five-year marriage, has obtained a divorce with the shelter's help.

She says the psychological abuse turned into beatings over the past year. "One night, he kneeled on my breasts and tried to strangle me and made it difficult for me to breathe. I still have pains from that," she says.

That's when Torgunakova called the shelter's hotline, says Natalia Mikheeva, director of the Lyubava Center.

"If he beats you, he loves you," goes a centuries-old Russian saying. A network of groups battling domestic abuse is trying to change that kind of thinking. A campaign in 80 cities repeats the adage on posters and asks, "Is that love?" The campaign, which includes public service announcements on TV and radio, was spearheaded by the National Center for the Prevention of Violence in Russia (ANNA) and conducted by the network of regional groups.

ANNA hosted Russia's first international conference on domestic violence in March. The gathering, sponsored by the Ford Foundation, focused on the need for legal changes and highlighted examples where Russian localities have addressed the issue. "We heard from activists that in Tumen, the police and the shelter work closely together. In Yekaterinburg, the crisis center has a desk in the police station," says ANNA's director, Marina Pisklakova.

Abuse statistics

The Russian home can be a brutal place for women. Domestic violence kills one woman every 40 to 60 minutes in Russia, says an Amnesty International report released in December.

In the United Kingdom, by comparison, about two women are killed by their partners every week, says Friederike Behr, one of the authors of the Amnesty International report.

Russian government statistics show that an average of 14,000 women a year were killed by their husbands from 1995 to 2000. In the USA, which has twice Russia's population, about 1,200 women are killed annually by their partners.

Russia has few crisis centers and few places for abused women to seek counseling and legal advice. The shelter that provided haven for Torgunakova is among 10 women's shelters in all of Russia, according to ANNA.

There are no articles in Russia's criminal law that apply specifically to domestic violence. Acts of violence against women in the family, if they are dealt with at all, are treated like any violent crime. Women also are reluctant to seek prosecution. "Crimes of domestic violence remain hidden because 80% of those who make a complaint take it back," says Alexander Dementiev, deputy judge of Sverdlosk region, 850 miles east of Moscow. "Changes in legislation are needed."

Repeated acts of violence against the same person go unexplained, according to the Amnesty International report. It calls for the enactment of laws to protect women, ensure access to shelters and fund programs that teach lawyers and judges about domestic violence. "There's no notice anywhere that there is the same victim again and again in some of these criminal cases," Behr says. "If you are living in the apartment with your assailant, the law does not encourage you to bring a complaint at all."

Pisklakova says domestic violence seemed to worsen in the 1990s with the social and economic upheaval caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Today, according to the government, unemployment is a relatively low 7%, and living standards generally are rising. But 80% of Russians earn poverty-level wages, and several million are homeless, Moscow economist Nikolai Shmelev wrote in a 2005 article in a Russian political journal.

The social and economic situation for women in Russia has worsened, according to a 2004 report commissioned by the government. "The problem with domestic violence is more acute and needs active intervention, including official statistics. Steps should be taken to bring security to the family and assistance to victims of violence," said the report by Vladimir Lukin, ombudsman of the Russian Federation.

Options limited

Battered women often have nowhere to go because of limited economic and housing options.

"In the U.S., if a woman is assaulted, someone has to come out in handcuffs," says Daniel Glode, country director for the American Bar Association's Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative in Moscow. "She gets a restraining order, and he has to get out of the house. Here, even after a divorce, people still live together for economic reasons."

Russia's high rate of alcoholism also has contributed to domestic abuse. From 1989 to 2000, alcohol consumption in Russia increased 45%, according to the World Health Organization. Irina Shurygina, a sociologist at the Sociological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says a survey in 2003 showed two-thirds of women beaten by their husbands said their spouses became aggressive after drinking.

The European Commission wants one shelter for every 10,000 people. Yet in the capital, a city of 12 million, there is not a single women's shelter. Moscow has three daytime-only crisis centers, but unlike shelters, which provide a place for women to stay, crisis centers offer only counseling and legal advice.

Women's rights advocates and Russian lawmakers have discussed more than 40 versions of legislation to put domestic violence laws on the books. None would have criminalized domestic abuse. Instead, they would have made social services more available to victims.

"There are a lot of cases of women being murdered. We don't have protection or restraining orders," says Larisa Ponarina, deputy director of ANNA.

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